I met James and John in the Seattle airport this morning – on my way to Boulder, CO to watch the Iowa returns with my co-workers. Sandwiched between James, an African-American man who belies his age of sixty-five on my left and John, a sixty-something year old white, Canadian whose kind and drooping eyes peered out from behind deeply magnified glasses, I didn't imagine politics would be a conversation starter. But as I was reading a spread on the presidential candidates in Mother Jones magazine to pass the time before our plane boarded, James asked me whom it was I liked for president and that was it.
James identifies strongly as Muslim ("I don't drink any alcohol, or curse! I don't even eat pork!" he practically shouts while laughing loudly). When I told him I truly didn't know whom I'm supporting at this point but wondered whom he was supporting, he looked at me like I was crazy. "What?! Who am I supporting? Obama of course!"
Barack is a brother, James told me, and as a Black man and a Muslim he'd be supporting him. But it was more than that. James said Barack had the ability to unite a nation. Barack could rise up and challenge the very foundations of our country. Barack had the power and the passion to make change. Apparently the overwhelming majority of Democratic Iowans agreed tonight. Obama took Iowa with 38% of the delegates, he is tonight's Democratic winner.
John, the Canadian on my right, overheard our conversation and said that even though he couldn't vote in the States he believes Hillary is the right person for the job.
"She's tough. And she understands how to run your country. She's got experience!"
And many of his peers agree. The majority of older Iowans, over 65 years old, supported Hillary in the caucus. Women? Young voters, 17-24 years old? Independents? In large majority, they threw their support to Barack Obama.
In fact, according to Guardian Unlimited, "More than half the Democratic voters were attending their first caucus and Obama led among that group, too."
John Edwards rallied those who, when interviewed heading into the caucus, said "the top attribute was that a candidate `cares about people like me,' and he narrowly led Clinton and far outdistanced Obama among those most concerned that the candidate has the best chance to win in November."
And Edwards eeked out his second place slot behind Obama this evening with Hillary Clinton a very close third. Barack Obama made history tonight. But can he carry his victory through to New Hampshire?
Obama has certainly pulled off an incredible coup.
In a state that is 92% white, Obama won. In a race with a woman who has led the pack, carried by the women's vote more than any other Democratic candidate, Obama came out ahead winning the support of women in Iowa over Hillary Clinton. According to CNN, "Obama's victory came despite Clinton's support from EMILY's List, a national group that works to elect female candidates who favor abortion rights. The group contacted 60,000 Iowa women with no history of caucusing and asked them to support Clinton."New Hampshire, a state that is 96% white, looks like less of a challenge tonight than it did this morning for Obama.
40% of registered voters are independent in New Hampshire, a number that may play in Obama's favor as New Hampshire becomes increasingly "blue". With an 89% growth in attendance from the Iowa caucus in 2004, Democrats showed up in droves, almost two-to-one as compared to Republicans – much of that credited to Barack Obama and his campaign. If Obama can bring the independents out in New Hampshire, he could see a victory there as well.But with Senator Biden's and Senator Dodd's decisions to drop out of the race after tonight's caucus, it is quickly becoming a horse-race we haven't seen in years.
According to The New Republic, John Edwards has 34 state legislative endorsements in New Hampshire. He's also the proud recipient of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) endorsement in New Hampshire. But Obama carries the support of the state's newly elected Democratic members of Congress. In addition, Obama's been endorsed by The Globe and The Nashua Telegraph. Clinton holds the support of The Concord Monitor and has the largest number of state legislative endorsements.
Hillary Clinton has an opportunity in New Hampshire to come out ahead but her campaign may need to take a long, hard look at how they've framed their central messages up until this point. Are women of all races and ethnicities inspired enough by Hillary's message? African-American men? Young voters? Independents?
Bypassing Hillary's stalwart refrain that her participation in Bill Clinton's presidency makes her uniquely qualified to lead the country or even that her experience as a Senator is enough of a reason to vote for her, my co-workers say Hillary needs to pump her success as a "uniter" in New York. When Clinton ran for the Senate in New York people said she couldn't do it – she wouldn't be accepted by rural New Yorkers, she couldn't unite the state. But she was and she did.
New Hampshire could very well be a race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton -both of whom have very strong organizations on the ground in New Hampshire. But John Edwards, with a lot less money and a very small second place lead over Hillary gave a strong, heartfelt speech this evening calling on all Americans to fight corporate greed and advocate for universal health care. Edwards is confident that voters in New Hampshire will respond to his message of standing up for the middle-class and "changing the status quo".
No matter what happens in New Hampshire and beyond, tonight was historic. As Obama stood on the platform with his two young children and strong, intelligent, successful African-American wife by his side, "change" wasn't just an over-used campaign term to throw out in a rousing speech. "Change" was a living, breathing experience for all Americans to share tonight – its time has come.
James, my friend from the Seattle airport, is surely smiling.